Angkas, the country's leading app-based motorcycle taxi service, was recently given the go signal by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), as well as four cabinet members. During the height of community quarantine, motorcycle taxis, together with other modes of public transportation were ordered to stop operations making mobility challenging for those without their own modes of transport. With the lightening of restrictions, buses, jeepneys, and taxis have slowly been allowed to operate in the Metro again, albeit with limited capacities. Today, Angkas is awaiting the final go signal and is primed to deploy its 30,000-strong biker pool into the roads, with enhanced safety protocols to ensure the rider and passenger's protection.
A recent study by the University of the Philippines-College of Public Health (UP-CPH) on the safety of using motorcycle taxis for public transport supports the return of Angkas. The UP-CPH comprehensive paper expounds on the viability of the motorcycle as a vehicle to restore mobility despite the COVID-19 pandemic, while showing detailed guidelines that can keep both biker-driver, passenger, and perhaps even the people immediately proximate to them safe. The several layers of protection provide redundancies, which can and should eliminate the possibility of virus transmission between parties.
Angkas has been actively collaborating with the UP-CPH to devise strategies and form recommendations on how to make motorcycle taxi rides safe in the time of COVID. George Royeca, Angkas Chief Transport Advocate, says, “We worked with the UP-CPH team to conduct a science-backed study on how to make the motorcycle taxi safe in the time of COVID-19. While we are all looking forward to this day when we’re allowed to operate once more, we wanted to make sure that we are compliant with all safety regulations for the safety of our riders and our passengers.”
Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., UP-CPH Dean, confirmed the collaboration with Angkas and said that partnerships such as theirs are important to empowering people to resume their normal lives in the middle of the pandemic. Confirming that Angkas asked the UP-CPH “to provide guidelines and recommendations for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the transport industry,” Dr. Belizario added that “public health is innately collaborative. Kailangan magkatulungan. We continue to understand this disease better, as we tackle health challenges today.”
Dr. Belizario also added, “Angkas has taken the lead in ensuring that motorcycle taxis are properly equipped and safe for public use, which makes them more than prepared to perform public transport once that door opens. Motorcycle taxis can be allowed to operate if health and safety guidelines we have recommended are strictly implemented.”
The UP-CPH study points out that motorcycle taxis may prove to be a safer mode of transport because both the biker partner and passenger are not confined in an enclosed structure. Citing research done at Southern University in Guangzhou, China, the study emphasizes that higher wind velocity has a high possibility of decreasing confirmed case counts. This is due to high wind speeds being advantageous to the dilution and removal of droplets, hence shortening the suspension time of microorganisms in the air.
“A moving motorcycle naturally creates sufficient ventilation which is crucial in preventing COVID-19 transmission. We have followed the safety protocols mentioned in the study. When the local government units (LGUS) partnered with us to help bring their health workers to and from their destinations, there has not been one incident of virus transmission," Royeca said.
In the UP-CPH study, motorcycle taxis are deemed safe as long as strict adherence to the safety guidelines is followed. These guidelines include :
- Both the partner-bikers and passengers are required to wear protective equipment such as masks and helmets, with the biker’s visor helmet, which has recently been required among individuals riding a motorbike, acting as a face shield.
- Regular hand hygiene for rider and passenger
- Disinfection of commonly touched surfaces
- Washing and cleaning of protective equipment.
- Use of the protective barrier/shield.
While the study notes that plastic barriers between passengers and partner-bikers still have to meet the approval of peer-reviewed studies, the use of non-permeable barriers is allowed to minimize possible person-to-person transmission of the virus. The shield developed by Angkas was approved for use by the IATF, and many of which have been donated to motorcycle-owning healthcare workers in several cities such as Pasay, Pasig, and Manila during the lockdown.
The UP-CPH study also recommends other layers of protection for motorcycle taxi use, such as the verification of identity through facial recognition, contact tracing capability; and immediate reporting to the platform provider in the event that virus symptoms break out and persist; and strict compliance with medical advice from a healthcare provider.
Royeca says that contactless payments which will lessen the exchange of physical money between passenger and driver have been added to their app. A contact tracing tool has also been embedded in the Angkas software, which could help in detecting the location of infected individuals if needed. Angkas also has constant reminders advising partner-bikers and passengers alike to reveal this information to the platform provider should they test positive for COVID-19; the Angkas app also advises them to seek medical advice and cooperate with contact tracing efforts.
Royeca maintains that infection prevention and the constant updating of control measures to maintain it remains Angkas’ priority. Recognizing the need to balance health concerns with financial and employment needs, he says, “We understand that it is crucial to re-open the economy, and with it gradually mobilize the people through effective and safe modes of transport. However, we need to put the utmost importance on our biker partners’ and our passengers’ safety with the utmost importance.”
“Safety has always been the core of Angkas' operation. In this time of the pandemic, we consider it our civic responsibility to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and we will continue to innovate and be vigilant as our bikers soon begin bringing passengers to their destinations again.”
#Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat
Another partnership that Angkas recently joined to accelerate the opening of public transport while keeping travel safe is the Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat campaign. Royeca spearheaded the largest alliance of brands and conglomerates to restore consumer confidence by encouraging the public to observe safety protocols and has already obtained the support of the biggest corporations and brands in the country.
The Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat campaign is part of the private sector’s support for Taskforce T3 (Test, Trace, Treat), the multi-sector initiative put together in April 2020, to work closely with the Department of Health (DOH), the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, and the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to manage the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.